Westbank’s (CEO Ian Gillespie) luxury developments have recently run into a spate of reports of defects in the completed projects. This post touches on rapportage about these incidents, plus some contextual information about the relationship between major developers and the City, and links to social media coverage and discussions added at the bottom.
The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems at the “Kensington Gardens” (three 17-storey towers at 2220 Kingsway in Vancouver) were recently changed a couple of times as reported on social media by @jonesj. Since they are installed in the rooftop, this is a big deal.
A couple of weeks ago residents posted footage online of flooding in the Vancouver House project, affecting 20 floors, with the water running into condo units, down and out of elevator shafts, down the emergency escape stairs, and flowing into the underground parkade.
Did buyers expect luxury both inside and out from the Vancouver House? Commenters gave analogies of selling Lamborghinis and delivering Fords. Or perhaps it is like buying a Ferrari on the outside but getting a Fiat on the inside.
One way of looking at this and many other phenomena City Hall watchers observe is that Vancouver is witnessing the symptoms of late-stage “regulatory capture” (see our 2015 post – Is this what’s wrong with Vancouver City Hall?). This idea is worth further exploration. It leads to a deep question for a future post: How can a City move beyond late-stage regulatory capture?
Given the cozy relationship between a select group of large developers and City Hall, the public is justified in asking if developers are getting “special” treatment when it comes to applications, requests, approvals, bylaw enforcement, penalties, and inspections. We have covered examples over the years that suggest the answer may be “yes.” Are there separate rules for large developers when it comes to defect lists?
In the case of this specific developer, the CEO and company had a very close relationship with then-mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver regime. There are many examples spanning more than a decade about the cozy relationship. Here is just one – “Telus Garden developer puts on Vision Vancouver fundraiser” (Georgia Straight, Oct 2011 ). After years of petitions and public campaigns calling for election finance reform, at last the then-newly-elected provincial NDP BC government imposed a ban on corporate and union donations, with the first civic election under the new rules being held in 2018 (albeit with some important loopholes remaining). Despite the new limits on corporate donations, the hangover effects of a decade under Vision are still deeply entrenched at City Hall.
A number of the large developers actively marketed their projects offshore, and this has been well documented (here is a story going back ten years – Top parties look to entice Asian investors, Vancouver Sun, Oct 2011). People have documented the behaviour of speculators who never take delivery but flip condo units before a project is complete. Is this type of transfer pre-sale deal going on even now with another Westbank project, “The Butterfly,” at Nelson and Burrard?
As a side note, it’s worth remembering that the City of Vancouver originally owned most of the land where the Vancouver House tower now stands. It was public land, but the City under Gregor Robertson sold it to Westbank at a significant discount. It sold for $32 million, despite being valued at $128 million, according to research by Glen Chernen.
Another incident around the Vancouver House site involved an explosion at 3 am in the morning on January 5, 2021. This explosion was at one of the parking lots that are beside one of the lots comprising the Vancouver House rezoning site (see this post for further details).
Back to the HVAC system replacement at 2220 Kingsway, here’s the tweet from @jonesj for more details:
Eye on Norquay has documented in great detail the rezoning process for Westbank’s towers at 2220 Kingsway, up to 2013 (https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/specific-rezonings/2220-kingsway-2013/), and followed up with extensive coverage of the actual construction and aftermath (https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/category/kensington-gardens/).
This 2220 Kingsway is the site where a significant ‘public plaza’ was originally promised but never delivered. The City staff let Westbank “off the hook” for delivery on that promise. For more details, please see: Where’s the public plaza? A look back at Westbank towers at 2220 Kingsway: Compare built form with planning documents. (CityHallWatch, March 4, 2020)
Here are some social media links about the Vancouver House flood.
Here is a though-provoking article by a person who worked on a number of Westbank towers, including Vancouver House. “Turning Over the Earth – No matter how advanced the machines get, the work is really done by people” – https://popula.com/2019/04/23/turning-over-the-earth/
Further photos of the HVAC changes at 2220 Kingsway, taken May 1, 2021, are below.